Let the last legislative audit tell it, our school system sucks. The Orleans Parish School Board/NOLA Public Schools (NOLA-PS) and the Louisiana Department of Education have been operating charter schools since Katrina. And since then they’ve mostly been doing a terrible job. Based on the 2018-19 school year (the last one pre-COVID), 42% of schools graded out at a D or F. Another 30% received a C. Only 21% (18 of 83 schools) managed an A or B grade. With these terrible results it makes sense to ask if the crime spike is somehow related. Do our schools breed criminals?

New Orleans switched to a charter system after Katrina because the OPSB was shut down and had been serving kids a subpar education before the storm. Implementing charters was supposed to change education as we knew it. Charters, we were told, were going to usher in a new era of innovation and opportunity. It would be a time when parents would have a plethora of quality schools to choose from city-wide, instead of being stuck with the failing ones in their neighborhoods. 15 years later, things haven’t gone so well.

Senator Joe Bouie

“This whole experiment has been flawed from the beginning,”says state Senator Joe Bouie. “In 2005, 63% of students weren’t performing at grade level. We’re now at 73% of our students. We have a system where almost half the students are in D or F schools. And according to the census, we have 26,000 kids between 16 and 24 counted as disconnected. We gotta stop doing this to our children.”

Bouie says it all comes down to the OPSB’s lack of oversight. “They do not want to assume their constitutional duty,” he says. That constitutional duty according to Bouie is conducting this charter experiment to find out what works and what doesn’t, then implement that throughout all schools city-wide. He cites a state statute (RS 17:3972) as proof. “You should want to know why the kids are passing and failing,” he says.

NOLA-PS has pushed back. Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis Jr responded to the legislative audit. He essentially said that NOLA-PS doesn’t micromanage charters because it goes against giving the schools the autonomy to improve. He said that NOLA-PS does regularly collect academic data from the schools and conducts site visits. But that it doesn’t demand the innovations that work at one school be implemented in others because the whole point of the system is to give parents diversity when it comes to choosing how their children will be educated.

Senator Bouie disagrees. He says the whole point of the charter experiment is to find the best practices to educate children. And the children should be the focus, not the schools. “Every charter is an experiment,” he says. And at some point, the experiment has to come to an end. Ultimately, he’d like to see NOLA-PS take back all the schools and run them directly using the blueprint they’ve found to work during this experiment. Based on NOLA-PS’s history some may say that’s not a good idea. Because before Entergy and the S&WB jostled over the mantle of the most incompetent organization in the city, that title was held by the Orleans Parish School Board.  

For the upcoming legislative session, Bouie is working on at least 4 education related bills. 2 of those will be based on federal protections for children when it comes to experiments like charter schools. He says, “We don’t know the negative impact this has had on kids.”

But we can guess. After graduating from their D and F schools, where do these kids end up? Carjacking people outside of Costco and breaking into cars during parades and Saints games. The school system has failed them. The result is we end up looking both ways as we pump for gas. And nowadays hearing gun shots while taking out the trash is just background noise. As one meme says: New Orleans has become Gotham without Batman. Or in the educational sense, New Orleans has become Gotham where Batman only shows up 21% of the time. When looking for the reasons for the city’s high crime rate, rarely does the root cause of a poor education enter the conversation. Let’s hope that begins to change, starting with the upcoming legislative session.

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